Wednesday, December 26, 2012

More Christmas Statements about Marriage Equality from Catholic Hierarchy: Ten Reflection Points

Not-to-miss commentary on matters Catholic, now that Christmas is over and we may have more time to read a bit:

1. Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon, "The Catholic Church's Angry Christmas":

For the holidays this year, the Catholic Church chose to give the world the gift of bizarre, alienating and utterly missing the point rhetoric. Oh, you shouldn’t have! We already got one of those from the NRA

2. What Mary Elizabeth Williams says about the "phony-baloney" rhetoric Catholic leaders want to dish out right now about both abortion and marriage equality is paralleled in an article by Daniel Martin in The Mail (London) noting that Archbishop Vincent Nichols has attacked the British government for planning to implement marriage equality.* According to Martin, Archbishop Nichols claims that the Cameron government's plan to take this step is "Orwellian" and rides roughshod over democracy--since there is no popular mandate for marriage equality.


The Archbishop’s comments come despite the fact polls show the public is largely in favour of allowing gay couples to marry.

3. At Queering the Church, Terry Weldon notes that the Catholic bishop of Shrewsbury, Mark Davies, has just echoed Nichols's rhetoric, claiming that the government has no mandate to implement marriage equality and failed to consult "seriously" before it took this step. 


He is wrong. The consultation process was well – publicised, wide and deep, and this shows in the thoughtful, reasoned government response in its published report . . . . [T]he consultation also showed that a clear majority of the British public do believe that legal recognition of marriage should be available to all – and that is the view adopted by the government.

4. And as background commentary that, to my mind, richly illuminates these discussions about how unmoored from fundamental logic (and, it has to be said, plain honesty and truthfulness) the Catholic hierarchy have succeeded in becoming in their approach to the issue of marriage equality, I highly recommend TheraP's brilliant commentary this past June at her Heresy & Humor site. TheraP has just reminded me of this posting in a comment at Bilgrimage. 

She tangles with Benedict's "abstract language void of any concrete basis in Scripture or the Fathers," which increasingly leaves his listeners "awash in a sea of airy abstractions, punctuated by fanciful conceptual leaps." What she looks for in a man proclaiming the gospel, but finds absolutely lacking, is "a human touch."

What to think about all of this? Here are ten of my own top-of-head thoughts:

1. Vis-a-vis the human rights of LGBT persons, the leaders of the Catholic church have placed themselves in a miserable position in which their response to marriage equality will grow increasingly shrill, divorced from reason and common sense, undemocratic--and, let's face it, downright mean-spirited--as many societies move towards respect for human rights in this area.

2. Lack of reason, common sense, and mean-spirited behavior are par for the course when hierarchies which imagine that they answer to no one but themselves meet democratic opposition, as the leaders of the Catholic church (and religious right) increasingly do in the marriage equality debate.

3. The abstraction, high-flown rhetoric, leaps in logic, etc., are attempts to disguise the mean-spirited inhumanity and plain cruelty that are at the bottom of Benedict's response to his LGBT brothers and sisters--and the response of current members of the hierarchy he leads.

4. What Archbishop Nichols and Bishop Davies signal by their remarks is that the Catholic hierarchy continue to imagine that they must have a veto right even as a democratic majority moves in the direction of marriage equality. Just because. Because they are the Catholic hierarchy.

5. Implicitly, Archbishop Nichols and Bishop Davies are arguing that the rights of a minority group should be determined by the vote of a majority. This is a morally regrettable position for the leaders of a Christian church to take. The way in which the majority treats the humanity and human rights of a minority group is a litmus test of the human decency of any society.

6. The Catholic hierarchy in the U.S. recognized that fact in the 1960s and gave admirable witness in their support of an embattled minority whose rights many American citizens wanted to determine via popular referendum. In its response to the human rights of LGBT persons, the Catholic hierarchy have now moved 360 degrees in the opposite direction, communicating as they do so that the humanity of LGBT persons is somehow different from the humanity of everyone else in the world, and less worthy of respect than that of other human beings.

7. And, interestingly enough, when the majority do, in fact, approve of marriage equality, as is the case in Britain now, the Catholic hierarchy appear willing to stand the facts on their head and offer counterfactual arguments that are downright untruthful as they continue to claim a veto right regarding marriage equality.

8. In behaving this way, the Catholic hierarchy are taking a leaf from the American religious right and, in particular, the National Organization for Marriage, and are demonstrating the great extent to which opposition to gay rights at the level of the Vatican is driven by right-wing American interest groups with strong influence in the Vatican--in large part, due to their money.

9. The lack of honesty, the shoddy logic, the mean-spiritedness exhibited in the Catholic hierarchy's current approach to their LGBT brothers and sister significantly undermines everything the hierarchy wish to say about human rights and about critical issues like family, peace, etc.--a point Terry Weldon makes very well in his commentary on Benedict's annual address on world peace.

10. The only possible way that the Catholic hierarchy can begin to retrieve moral credibility now as they address human-rights issues is to consult the faithful and listen respectfully to the sensus fidelium. But when the hierarchy are entrenched in a position of more or less absolute reaction, as is the case under the current pope, the hope for such a redeeming move remains muted in the extreme.

*I'm grateful to Dennis Coday for providing a link to Martin's article in his "Morning Briefing" column in National Catholic Reporter.

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